Monday, 10 October 2016

Framing Our Learning

The Kindergarten Program

This past summer the Ontario Ministry of Education released the new Kindergarten Program document for the upcoming school year. I was very eager to read this document and happily set out do so with my passion for early years education at the forefront. What I learned from my first read through of the document is that it is rich in it's layout of the Kindergarten program and I will be rereading it and revisiting the video clips embedded many times. I am looking forward to discussing the document and continuing to develop our program as we learn throughout the school year. One of the biggest shifts within the document is the introduction of the four frames of learning. They are as follows: Belonging and Contributing, Self-Regulation and Well-Being, Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviours, and Problem Solving and Innovating. We will use these frames throughout our program development to support the children in their learning. Whether it's while creating the classroom environment, setting out invitations to learn, extending their wonders or planning focused activities we will be framing our own thinking with the new document. I have labelled some of my thinking in this blog post with the four frames. However, one quickly comes to realize how intertwined the four frames are and how they support one another. Really all the frames work together in all the learning spaces to support the children in becoming life long learners.

I was also happy to see the document talk about the learning enviroment as the third teacher which comes from the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education. This is something I believe strongly about. While setting up the classroom we are carefully selecting and creating a space that will support the children in their ideas, wonders and learning. Each item is chosen for a specific reason and for it's potential to engage our youngest learners in a rich experience. The classroom environment is not static. It will change throughout the school year in response to the children's ideas and needs so that as educators we can move their learning forward. Here are some of the learning invitations or provocations we offered to the children as the school year started. I hope you enjoy our Reggio inspired learning environment.

On their first day of school each child was given a recycled crayon star as a gift. This is an excellent way to use up all those crayon bits that would otherwise go unused and be wasted. Here's how I made these rainbow crayon stars. I peeled and broke the crayons into small pieces. I also sorted each colour into baggies. This made the filling of the silicone molds much easier. I bought my mold at Michaels Store. I heated the oven at 225 degrees. Then I put the mold filled with crayons on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes. Take the tray out and let it cool. This takes about 1 hour. Once cool pop out the crayons. I hope that our little learners enjoy their crayons and make many colourful creations!

The Wonder Frame 
Question Box
Belonging and Contributing
Self Regulation and Well Being
Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviour

The literacy shelf is right next to our big carpet. This photo was taking at the beginning of the school year and the shelf has already been changed in response to the children's needs. To start I included blank paper, pencils, dry erase boards and markers and our drawing cubes to explore line making. The bottom shelf has two of our inquiry binders from last year for the children to revisit their previous learning. As well as our large plush alphabet letters. The wooden box is our question box and in the green box next to it is the slips of paper for the recording of questions. At the beginning of the year educators will scribe and support the children in recording their wonders and questions. However as the year progresses the children will often record and display their questions all on their own. We already have a few questions and wonders which we are exploring with the children.

The Inquiry Table

The inquiry table is a place for the children to explore their ideas and wonders. To begin I set the table with clipboards and empty tray and the two photo frames. This table has been the place of many investigations already which I will share in another post soon.

During the first few weeks of the school year we shared the book, "I Wonder" with the children. This is a wonderful book with lovely illustrations and I highly recommend it to introduce the children to discovering their wonders. After reading the book to the children we shared with them how to use the question box and wonder frame.

Exploring Self With Loose Parts
Belonging and Contributing
Self Regulation and Well Being

This invitation to create self portraits was set in the art studio or our atelier. The children were immediately drawn to the tray of loose parts. I did not instruct the children before they explored this invitation and because of this they interpreted the materials with their own ideas. For about two weeks the children used the circular cork boards to explore many concepts such as patterning, one to one correspondence, measurement as they compared lengths of yarn and storytelling. Then during the third week of school I asked them to create their self portraits. I am so happy that I did not give them any instruction before this as it would have impeded their own creativity with these loose parts. This was very intentional on my part and something I feel is very important within the Reggio inspired classroom. We should allow children to express their creativity and own ideas freely.

Our Home Away From Home
Belonging and Contributing
Self Regulation and Well Being

The Home area is usually a very popular space of exploration within our learning environment. This summer I really tried to make it a very home like space. I lined the shelf with shelf liner and lace placemats and really considered carefully the materials that were to be offered. I removed a lot and I am so pleased with how the children have been using this space. Last year we did not offer the children plastic food within this area. I had made some felt lettuce leaves and we added yarn and wooden spheres painted like meatballs. The children also used paper and art materials to extend their ideas. This year we are continuing this in the home area but I also wanted to add a loose parts tray. So this summer I cleaned and saved peach pits to add to the loose parts tray in the following photo. The children sort the tray each clean up and have been very responsible in helping keep track of all the loose parts in this tray. Their play as been so creative in the use of these parts. They have made soup and salad as well as poured, scooped and transferred the materials between containers.

Problem Solving and Innovating

Our block shelf is home to a variety of materials to support the children as they explore building, constructing, problem solving and innovating. We have included a bin of cans and lids, carpet squares, foam upholstery sheets, and tree cookies to support the children's constructions. The "Can You Build It" book has photos of famous buildings from around the world. 

Exploring Light

I have been able to purchase two light panels for the classroom through the Scholastic book orders. They have been such a valuable resource to our classroom. The children love using the rainbow blocks and many other transparent materials when investigating here. Before I purchased these two panels I had made a DIY light box using an under the bed storage box and tap lights from Home Depot. There are many DIY versions out there and it's easy and affordable. The children also readily explore with the small flashlights from the Dollarama. Light investigations are always fascinating to the children and this medium gives them another avenue to explore their ideas with.

The children initially explored line with this invitation. Then they began to sort the glass stones by colour. Next I encouraged them to count the stones to see which group of stones had more. Then Sophia printed the numbers indicating the amount for each set. 

The Math Shelf
Demonstrating Mathematical Behaviour

Invitations on the math shelf and the materials will change through out the year as we explore different mathematical concepts with the children. Last year I made the number stones for 0 to 10. This summer I added 11 to 20. As well included are beads on rings for the numbers 1 to 10. The ten frames I made using washi tape and bread boards purchased from the Dollarama. The text, "Friendshape" is a lovely book about friendship and shapes. It's a great read for the beginning of the school year.

I thought I would share a photo of one of the two manipulative shelves. These two shelves generally remain the same throughout the school year. The two activities in the white trays are switched out when the children are no longer interested in them. They usually focus on fine motor skills but also include other learning opportunities at the same time. 

This invitation with the glass gems and cupcake liners has been very popular with the children. They have sorted by colour, explored pattening, compared amounts, participated in imaginary play and explored literacy skills with "The M and M's counting book." 

This tray activity focuses on transferring the beads from one bowl to the next. The children are also used this invitation with the cupcake liner tray during imaginary play. So although it's primary focus is fine motor skill the materials lend themselves to so much more than just one interpretation.

Playing with Patterns
Demonstrating Mathematical Behaviour

Many of the children have demonstrated their knowledge of patterns this month through their play. We have therefore extending their ideas during our small group lessons. The children are now beginning to draw and label their patterns ABAB, AABBAABB etc.

Documenting Our Thinking
Belonging and Contributing

We are encouraging the children to document their own learning. We support them as they draw and write about their explorations. This is a very important step in the learning process as it leads to new discoveries and ideas. When we represent our thinking in new ways there is always new connections and ideas made. The children are also so very proud of their efforts and this preserves for them a trace of their learning. 

Sensory Bin  Play

The intention with this invitation in the sand bin was to encourage imaginary play and storytelling. The children have also added to this play by incorporating the flashlights into their play. As well, there are a bin of card board tubes near by that have been added to the bin often. The proximity of materials to each other is very important. As the children often bring materials over from other spaces during their play. The card board tubes have been filled and dumped with sand repeatedly. 

We are fortunate to have three sensory bins in our learning space. However before this I often used large dishpans as my sensory bins and this works well on a table top or the floor. There are even DIY sensory tables which you could create as well. 

Sensory play engages the whole child and all of their senses in exploration. This collection of buttons was donated to me from our financial advisor. She had saved them for me after hearing me speak about the classroom during one of our meetings. They will certainly be treasured for years to come in our learning environment. I share this story with you because creating a Reggio inspired environment for me is most meaningful when the materials have their own history to contribute to the space. The children and their families and the environment are our riches source of inspiration and materials. 

 Environmental Explorations
Belonging and Contributing

Our environmental exploration area is filled with natural items that the children have collected over the years in our learning program. Bowls are filled with sea shells, acorns, feathers, pine cones, maple keys and sticks. These natural loose parts are there for the children to look closely at, create with and investigate. The children will also continue to add to this space as they collect new natural items through out the year. The empty trays will hold these dear nature treasures. We often have lively visitors in the fall and spring seasons and the bug viewers are perfect for taking a closer look. In years past we have viewed lady bugs, a toad, a grasshopper, a spider and worms. I encourage you to look back through the blog at these inquiries to see all the wonderful learning that took place. 

The past few years I have been saving my bonus coupons from the Scholastic Book orders to purchase a Folkmanis puppet for the the environmental exploration area. The past two years I purchased the rabbit and squirrel. I love the quality of these puppets and this year I am so excited to add the beaver to our collection. A perfect Canadian symbol to include in our learning space. 
Here is the address for their website:

Emma is recording her thoughts about the acorns she and Ryder collected. They worked together to discuss their thinking and draw where they discovered the acorns.

Observing Nature

Our first live visitor from the school yard this year was this moth that Cassidy collected. The children enjoyed looking at the moth and this along with a few other lively visitors have sparked our first inquiry.

Our Book Nook and Writing Space
Demonstrating Literacy Behaviours

This is a new space in the classroom this year in that we placed the book shelf and reading area next to the writing table. I wanted to bring these two spaces together so that they could support each other as the children explore books and writing. Another new feature in our classroom is the lamps. These are from IKEA and have really added to the home like environment we want to provide for the children. Most days are spent with the large overhead lights turned off and the lamps turned on. Not only does this help conserve energy as we are a Gold status Eco school but also creates a calmer learning environment with the natural lighting. 

This is the invitation we used to create our names using the wood log slices and the ABC stones. The capital letter stones were easy to make using stickers and Mod Podge. For the lower case letters I used Sharpie oil based paint pens. 

Many of the children have demonstrated that they are ready for some sight word exploration especially our second year students. Therefore I created this tray to peak their interest and help in identifying sight words, writing sight words and building simple sentences using the sight words. The tray was added to the literacy shelf. 

Storytelling and Oral Communication
Belonging and Contributing
Self Regulation and Well Being
Demonstrating Literacy Behaviour

This was perhaps one of my favourite little projects this past summer. I had an idea for the use of these colourful people stones in the art studio or atelier. But I decided to put them in our story making area first. I had so much fun painting these stones. First I chose 10 stones by size so that they grew in size from smallest to largest. Then I painted them in rainbow order. On their bellies I decided I would paint the colour graduating from white to the pure colour at the bottom. Therefore creating a various tints of the colour. Wow, so many ways to stimulate learning from these stones. The children have certainly included them in their play. The story making area is right beside the doll house and how clever the children were in putting the 10 stones in the doll house bed. Of course we then had to sing, "There were 10 in the bed." I also included an empty house frame which I picked up at Michaels Stores with these stones. The invitations offered were very simple and the children added their own touches to each of them. 

The Art Studio
Our Atelier
Belonging and Contributing
Self Regulation and Well Being
Problem Solving and Innovating

Here is just a quick view of the art shelf in our atelier. It is one of my favourite spaces in the classroom as an artist with a visual arts background. What I have come to discover as we continue on our Reggio inspired journey is that every space in the classroom becomes the atelier. Whether it's the children bringing art supplies over to where they are investigating to document or the intentional placement of coloured pencils, pastels and loose parts through out the learning environment and at invitations. The importance of the atelier could be a blog post all on it's own. Since this photo I have changed the bottom shelf to resemble the shelf above and the art supplies are sorted by colour in small containers. 

This year we have decided to not put the paint in the paint cups that come with the easel. Instead we purchased two paint palettes from the Dollarama. I am also putting the paint in empty cleaned out Heinz ketchup bottle that are 375ml. So far I have two one for the red and one for the yellow. This has made  painting so much easier as the children can self serve themselves the paint. Also now we feel like real artists using a paint palette. 

Although the cork board is not in the atelier the explorations here lend themselves to the many concepts of art. The children explore line, symmetry, shape, texture and design. This invitation also lends itself to collaboration, problem solving and innovation.

The Engineering Station
All Aboard at the Train Table
Problem Solving and Innovating
Belonging and Contributing

The engineering table underwent a major change this year as we set up the classroom. I love the use of mirrors in learning invitations. So I included three as the backdrop for the engineering table. I also covered the table with a large piece of butcher paper to neutralize the work surface. In the past we have added markers to this space for the children to use as well as a tray of loose parts. I also removed much of the commercialized train set pieces. What stayed was the bridges, train track pieces and the trains. The space is less cluttered and more open ended for the children. 

Children often bring materials from other areas of the classroom to support their play.

The Save My Work Shelf

This shelf came about because we often have children who do not want to take apart their creations at the end of play block. We feel that it is important to honour the effort they have put into their play by allowing them to keep their work for a time on the save shelf so that they can revisit their ideas. We also document their work as a way to support this as well. So usually after a few days they children are more than willing to remove their work so that other children can use the materials. This has kept the classroom much tidier as the children's creations were often on top of other shelves.

Our little learners love Magna tiles. It is such a wonderful toy. This year we see a focus in building towers and in using the flashlights to illuminate the tiles from the inside. This will be such an interesting inquiry to explore with this group of children.

Terry Fox
Inspired to Create
Belonging and Contributing
Self Regulation and Well Being
Demonstrating Literacy Behaviours

We concluded September with our Toonies for Terry Walk. In the morning we explore a storybook about Terry Fox. Then in the afternoon we walked in support of cancer research. Lucy and Paolo worked together at the white board. Lucy drew Terry Fox and Paolo helped her to label the drawing with Terry Fox's name. I was so moved by this. They were inspired to create by one of Canada's most treasured hero's. Wouldn't Terry be proud? His impact continues on as we work towards a cure for this disease.

The Peace Table
Self Regulation and Well Being

The peace table is a place to explore emotions and well being. We will be sharing many texts with the children this year to explore and develop self regulation. This is a space of safety, of beauty and calmness. The children are not sent here by educators. They choose to go here of their own accord. The activities here will be quiet and reflective. A big thank you to Rachel from for the recommendation of this book. "In my heart" is a beautiful book that explores love. 

I leave you with this final photo. It represents so clearly how these lovely children have come together this first month of school and become a community. Each day before going outside for recess they arrange their shoes in a variety of ways. They did this without any prompting and totally independently. On this day they created a circle. I love how there are a few shoes in the middle of the circle protected by the other ring. How symbolic of our first month of school and our desire as educators to give these children a welcoming and safe environment. 

"In Kindergarten the classroom environment is thoughtfully designed to invite, provoke, and enhance learning, and to encourage communication, collaboration, and inquiry." 

(The Kindergarten Program, 2016, p.29)

We look forward to a wonderful year!